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Serious Black's Dominik Sebastian: "We didn’t watch out for a hired gun or just a copy of a magician who can sing too"

Interview with Dominik Sebastian from Serious Black
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 29 March 2022, 10:49 PM

Facing the unknown, well that is a general term, but when it treads on one's doorstep, it can be a pain. The Heavy / Power Metal band, Serious Black, slowly noticed what is going on with their frontman, which later left the band abruptly. Quite a hit for the band, yet they were able to triumph and recover. Their new testament, “Vengeance Is Mine”, sent out the message that the journey of the band continues, no matter what and with such a strong conviction and quality. Steinmetal had a good talk with longtime guitarist Dominik Sebastian, about what went on with Urban Breed, searching for a new voice and of course, the album

Hello Dominik, it is an honor to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing sir?

Hi Lior, thanks for your invitation! I’m doing quite fine, thank you!

A lot of things have been happening around the world in the last two years, whether the pandemic, and now the war in the East. A kind of downfall after a downfall. In the way you see things, going forward in time, in the foreseeable future, would we have a reason to smile again?

Well, the pandemic years were challenging indeed but gave us the possibility to fully concentrate on the album. The war – and it has to be called WAR – is an immense tragic and we need to hope that it won’t come worse! But nevertheless, we don’t help anybody if we keep ourselves being stuck in a state of shock and lethargy. And anyway, we already have a good reason to smile: Our current album hit the German album charts at rank #16!

Other than what has been happening around you, there is Serious Black. Last year, you saw your longtime vocalist, Urban Breed, leave the band, and while the new album was in writing no less. What led to his departure from the band? How did it affect you personally, since it has been your baby for so long?

I have to go further back in time. Especially the last recordings with him (working on Suite 226) were difficult like hell as he didn’t hold any of the deadlines for delivery, given by our record company. He was not even reachable for us or the company at all. We kept on trying, also asked his friends and relatives, to get in touch with him to discuss the reason for that and to find a solution together.  But he just didn’t give a shit. The final vocal recording files we got 3 months (!!) after the planned date. Because of that major delay Mario had to finalize the record within a few days that we could at least hold the release date. That was necessary because of the already booked tour with Hammerfall in spring 2020, which was so important for us.

His behaviour of a “fuck-it-all”-attitude increased on that tour – he didn’t show up for soundchecks or at the merchandise area after the shows and also didn’t perform the way he used to on previous tours. On top of that we were later told by our crew members that he was telling lies about us, too. Urban later apologized for his behaviour over the past years via an old (and not used) chat room in which only Ramy, a former crew member and I were still in. We didn’t react to that immediately as he knew exactly how he could reach us in an official way. So, we waited for an honestly meant mail of excuse or a will for a talk by him. Instead of that, a few days later, we got requests from various magazines and business partners about what is going on, as Urban posted on Facebook that he was out of Serious Black. That was surprising indeed – although I personally would have kicked him out already right after the last tour, or even far earlier. In a little public debate, he tried to turn things around to his own favor but still didn’t ask for a talk. So, latest at this point, it was clear for everybody, that there was no chance anymore for a working together at all.

Nevertheless: Still an outstanding singer he is, we wish him all the best for his future life.

The recruiting of ex-Eden’s Curse’s Nikola Mijic started a new era for Serious Black, certainly due to the caliber of Mr. Mijic, who had already proved himself more than once or twice in the past. What in Mijic’s vocal pattern, and range, ticked for you, which led you to have him on board the Serious Black camp?

We didn’t watch out for a hired gun or just a copy of a magician who can sing too. The requirement was to find one who is able to sing our old stuff as well as he should bring in his own ideas, style and knowledge. Last but not least: he should pull the same rope into the same direction like we do. We searched for the needle in a haystack, so to speak.

We were in contact with various great singers worldwide and also did some auditions via mail – more or less a casting. Then, one day our label AFM-records told us that Eden’s Curse might split up and that Nikola would be a great choice. Ramy already knew him from a shared tour with his former band and remembered him to be a nice, calm and professional guy. So, we contacted him, and he was absolutely hooked. But then we had to wait quite long for his demo recordings, in which he should show us his interpretation of some of our old songs and an idea to a new one. I personally had a kind of flash back and feared no good. But when he finally sent us his demo we were absolutely flashed. The first personal meeting took place then in our studio near Munich to do the final vocal recordings. I don’t need to tell you what an amazing job he did on our current record.

Nikola does not just replace a former member but lifts Serious Black to the next level. We are more than happy that we have found our “Mr. Right” within Europe.

Along with Mijic, and friends that came for the rescue, such as ex-guitarist / keyboardist Bob Katsionis, and vocalist Henning Basse, you were able to complete the next in line Serious Black album, “Vengeance Is Mine”. On a personal note, once it was done, did it feel like a huge rock fell from your heart? Did you have doubts about the album’s completion earlier on?

Well, the withdrawal of our former singer didn’t come too early. We didn’t want to lose any time as we couldn’t know when we would find a proper replacement. On top there is absolutely no guarantee that a good front guy is a good writer, too. Anyway, the main concepts for the stories that the lyrics should tell about were set. So, we began to write the words ourselves to the already finalized music. Here I have to mention that Bob wrote a good amount of the music on “Vengeance” but couldn’t find time then to join us for the video and photo shootings. Next to creating most of the keyboard lines and orchestral stuff he also played some rhythm, lead and solo guitars and additional bass, too.

Henning was really a great help for us in finding the right vocal lines and also words to some songs. He also gave us great feedback on others.

There was no doubt at any time that we wouldn’t finish the album in time, but we all were relieved for sure when it was done. We had the feeling that we have created something special.

Talking about the title, you picked a powerful one indeed. It bears a lot with it, in particular since you put yourself as sort of background to the album. How do you connect between the title and the stories that are being told on the record?

In the centre of the concept of vengeance it tells about Mario’s relationship of the past few years. He treated her like a princess, did everything for her and helped her out of the shit. It all seemed harmonic and perfect – for outsiders, sometimes maybe too perfect. Then, suddenly, when he just asked for a little give and take, she dropped him like a hot potato from one day to the other and told lies about him and his surroundings. It is so sad how one can be wrong about someone. Our last single “Out Of The Ashes” tells most of the main story. Watch the video we did for it!

Other lyrics are about various people in our daily lives we had the “honor” to work with in our past - e.g. different musicians or people of the (music) business. It’s about intrigues, lies, megalomania, overconfidence, or egomania of those people that we had to deal with. Also, the situation with Urban was a great source of inspiration for us. For example, “Fallen Hero” describes the working with him, especially on the previous album. “Just For You” is meant to be a direct sequel to “Suite 226”: The protagonist is still living in his fantasy- or dream world and keeps listening to the voices in his head and doesn’t realize reality.

Without saying any names in the songs we want to clear up about those things happened, rectify them and we will not cover anyone anymore. We are sick and tired of this kindergarten. So, therefore, we chose the title for the record.

We mentioned the album’s narratives, how did it feel to you to unravel, even metaphorically, events that influenced you, whether for better or worse, and have them as songs?

Life itself wrote these stories. We give the audience a look deep inside our inner selves, showing our honest feelings - naked and uncut. Without knowing personally, writing those lyrics were like sessions at a psychiatrist or psychologist. It felt so good to wash out all the dirt we had to swallow in our past.

Looking at the album’s artwork, it appears as if you were able to get back to life, and gain what you have lost, or is it merely the first step in journey upon a form of ascendence from the ashes, and therefore the winged burning lion. What is your take on this piece of artistry?

The flaming lion does not only represent strength or power. The lion is also Mario’s zodiac sign. As the main concept of the album is about his life, it is, so to speak, him on the cover, crushing the diadem of the princess in rage but spreads his wings and rises like a phoenix at the same time. Free and starched for a new beginning.

The melodic touch, which has been integral for Serious Black, is maintained, as if kept hidden from anyone to molest it in any way. Nevertheless, the states of minds within the record are constantly rigid, between comfort, anger, solitude, and salvation. The music responds well to the changes. How do you find the musical progress of Serious Black, as a unit, with the emergence of “Vengeance Is Mine”?

This record is done in the way we always dreamt of. We discussed everything on eye level and figured out what would be the best solution for the song. Everyone brought in his expertise and together we created what we hold in our hands now. This all wouldn’t have been possible with the former line up.

Mentioning the twists and turns within “Vengeance Is Mine”, how were you able to find that right cohesion between the lyrics and the written music? Was it all about the right attitude?

We wrote the words to the final music. So, the words had to follow. We tried to get most catchy output to every single song that the audience would be able to sing along more or less after the first listening. Most of the words came out just like a flow. To set then the right words with the right melody line to the right musical part was the more tricky part. We chose a more easy language for a better understanding for not native speakers. We are just happy that it all worked out so great.

We talked about the importance of Nikola Mijic, as the new frontman of the band.  Since Mijic came on board while the album was in the making, did he have the chance to contribute also as a writer on the record? How was he able to contribute to the record’s effort?

Nikola brought in some ideas in the end. As I already mentioned, we were forced to finalize it all ourselves first. All in all, the writing process was done as a collective but of course we wish for his full participation on the next releases.

For the final vocal recordings, we directed Nikola to make him interpret the songs like they were done by him. He just did an amazing job indeed. You really think that he had lived through all these stories himself.

In your view, what made the songwriting process of “Vengeance Is Mine” as a rather challenging phase in the album’s lifecycle? What about the steps taken once the songwriting process was complete? Due to the tricky period of time in which the album was recorded, I believe it is a question is viable

The time period for the whole writing and recording process was just perfect for us. We started directly after we got back from our tour with Hammerfall. We were able to use the lockdowns without being interrupted by festivals or other touring. Working remote was nothing new for us anyway. The search for another singer needed time, too.

Not only the collective creative processes were different to previous sessions, also the working together with our record company was much closer than before. Mario knows the music business like rarely someone else and he had so many great ideas to promote the whole thing.

Unfortunately, some of those ideas didn’t bear fruit the way we wanted due to the difficult situations of the pandemic. But nevertheless, it was a great experience. Next time encore!

With all your experience as a songwriter, what was left for you to learn as “Vengeance Is Mine” was in the process of making? Which lessons of the past were you able to implement on the new record in order to perfect your methods, whether as a musician and as a writer?

Less might be more … I learned to respect decisions I didn’t like at first – e.g. when a song of mine of six and more minutes was suddenly edited down to about three minutes. This hurts. But then it happened that I got used to the shorter version and even cut it down myself of another few seconds. I think I learned to focus more on the essence of the song - at least for Serious Black. The longer and more progressive tracks I still can do with my other band “Jacobs Moor”.

What did “Vengeance Is Mine” in particular teach you about yourself, as an individual, that shares his past experience throughout the album? Were you able to find a sort of a new you?

In a certain way I – we – became necessarily harder. It might be more difficult to trust others. At least it could last a bit longer. For sure I will be more attentive in the future but hopefully not paranoid.

It appears that also the sound production of this record took various turns, with an actual crew taking care of parts of the entire created wall of sound. Certainly, a bombastic outcome. What can you tell about the sound of the record? What is your appreciation of the end result?

Mario did a phenomenal job mixing in a way like the big guys do. We also had the time for it. I can’t go into details as I have no clue about that (haha). Listen to the record over headphones or a good stereo system and you’ll find those tiny sound gimmicks within the songs. We also kept the main sound quite dynamic, so it feels more like a stadium rock record. It lets the music breathe.

Since the record shares several phases, with nearly each song displaying different patterns of personality, I picked the one that should be rendered as one of the album’s main drivers, “Soul Divider”. I believe that you found the edge between being melodic, heavy and also heart-warming at the same time. It also shows the qualities of Mijic as a vocalist, such richness and depth. What is your appreciation of this song? How do you find its impact?

Thank you for the flowers! This is one of the songs I’ve written the music for, and I also wrote the lyrics together with Ramy. It tells a love story of another kind out of Ramy’s life. It is also the very last song we finalized. Literally I rewrote the chorus (words and melody line) just a minute before Nikola stepped into the recording room. Although we all were already tired from the hard work during the week of vocal recordings, he just nailed it. I’m really proud of what we made out of it. By the way, this song is also the favorite of my other singer, Ritchie.

When you listened to the entire record, which I assume happened a lot, how did the experience make you feel about what you created? Anything that you would have done differently?

We all are sure that we created something really special. We just took the best of our best ideas, crowded together the best possible musicians around and worked together like never before. Of course, you might find something here or there which could be more like this or less like that. But if you start thinking like that you’d never come to an end. Maybe “Mona Lisa” was just a sketch for daVinci … but I don’t think so.
On the next recording we will probably do some things differently. I can’t tell yet what.

Since Serious Black has a new record out, are there plans to support it in the coming future?

There are some summer festivals confirmed this year and we will hopefully go on our postponed headliner tour in Nov/Dec. As this year every festival and band on earth needs and wants to do their postponed tours and concerts, we concentrate more on 2023.

Dominik, many thanks for your time and for your attention to this interview. It was a pleasure for me to have you. All the best and keep up making great stuff. Cheers

Thank you so much for your interest and support! It was a great pleasure! Cheers!


 



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